Nurses Leading With Care Throughout the Lifespan

Nurses touch people at every point of the lifespan. This month we recognize several nurses whose patients are in varying stages of their lives. We also celebrate Men’s Health Month and honor male nurses.

“It’s Like a Family Here”

Heather White, RN
Lead Clinical Nurse
Trillium Health
Rochester, NY

Heather White sees her health center as “so much more than a clinic. It’s like a family here.” Trillium Health is an FQHC-Look-Alike in Rochester, NY that began over 30 years ago as a center focused on HIV and AIDS care. Since then it has grown into a full-service, integrated place of care for the community.

Heather has worked at Trillium for 13 years wearing many nursing hats. Her current role is Lead Clinical Nurse.  She serves full time as an RN in Trillium Health’s infectious disease and primary care clinics, Center for Transgender Excellence, sexual health services, harm reduction services for people managing addiction, and on a mobile unit that goes to various parts of Rochester. Heather especially appreciates the face to face interaction with patients in all of these settings.  As she describes it, “You get to know patients and build relationships. You see the progress, both in their lives and their illness. Teaching people about their health and how to improve their lives in general is the great reward.”

Heather’s coworkers and leaders at Trillium agree and feel that Heather is the heart of that family.  They share, “Heather is known as an energetic butterfly who flits between patients, making every one of them feel singularly special and personally cared for. Her infectious laugh balances her fierce advocacy. Her dedication to patients with complex needs and few resources is truly remarkable. One patient commented ‘I would not be here on this earth if it weren’t for Heather. I knew from the beginning she cared about me when no one else did. Nobody. She saved my life.'”

According to Trillium Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rob Biernbaum, “Heather is a harm reduction guru. She personified harm reduction before that name ever existed. Through her 13+ years in HIV and Hepatitis C prevention and treatment, her voice continues to echo with ‘What if we could just….’ As a change agent, Heather goes above and beyond for patients in remarkable ways to find what works for each individual. She keeps them engaged in care and treatment. She’s amazing.”

Dr. William Valenti, Trillium Founder, Senior Vice President, and Chief of Innovation, shares “I have worked with Heather for more than 13 years and admire how she puts patients at ease. She is calm, thoughtful, effective and most of all – she is caring. They trust her deeply.” Standing all of 5 feet 2 inches, Heather has a giant impact. Another patient adds, “I look forward to seeing Heather any time I come in and I miss her when we don’t get to connect. She’s unlike so many other people in this world – her warmth and her novel spirit. She’s an inspiration to so many of us.”

Heather leads with care alongside her team by treating everyone—both her team members and her patients—as family.  When asked what brings her the most joy in her work, Heather shared “…knowing that the patients we serve will vary.  When you open up that door to the waiting room you get ALL types of people. Together they are all taken care of, not judged, safe, and making progress. I love being a part of that service.”

“If you know your community, it’s easier to help your community.”

Firew Endale, RN, BSN
Nurse Care Manager
Unity Health Care, Inc.
Washington, DC

Firew Endale, RN, BSN has seen health disparities both here and abroad. Growing up in Ethiopia, he saw firsthand how difficult it was to access care. There were not enough medical providers and health care was scarce. When Firew moved to the United States 9 years ago, he knew that there were also health disparities in this country, and he wanted to help his community. He enrolled in nursing school and quickly finished his associate’s degree in nursing.

During nursing school, Firew had the privilege of accessing his own health care at Mary’s Center, a community health center in Washington, DC. He was very impressed with his health care experience and found the triage nurse and providers to be very helpful. “At that moment, I promised myself that I would be like them. Small ways of caring made a difference, and I said that when I become a nurse, I will do the same,” Firew said.

Today, Firew is doing just that. He works at the Upper Cardozo Health Center, the largest site within the Unity Health Care, Inc. network. The health center patient population is very diverse, including a large East African population which Firew is uniquely equipped to work with.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Firew was working with four providers, providing care management to dozens of patients. Phone calls and in-person visits surrounding chronic disease management, lab results and education have been his focus over the last two years.

In the past few months, he has moved toward mostly telehealth—but he also rotates in the COVID-19 testing tent. There he is responsible for early morning set-up with PPE, supplying patient information and patient screening. He also triages patients for both sick and well visits.

Firew sees the importance in these roles and is pleased he is able to do both during this challenging time. What is most important to Firew, which informs the way he “leads with care” is to help patients at the community level. “We have skills to provide help at the community level for both illness and prevention, plus chronic care management. Nurses should look at how the patients are living, working, and socializing. If you know your community, it’s easier to help your community,” he said.

The Road to Recovery: Understanding Patients Mind, Body, and Soul

Mervin Guillory, BSN, RN
Ambulatory Detox Nurse 
Jeff Care, a program of Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority
New Orleans, LA 

June is Men’s Health Month which gives an opportunity to raise awareness of the many health issues men face throughout their lives. But June is also an occasion to honor our male nurses who serve as role models for men’s health awareness every day at work. One such nurse is Mervin Guillory, BSN, RN, an Ambulatory Detox Nurse in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.

Mervin works at JeffCare, a program of Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority, which provides fully integrated primary care and behavioral health services for all ages from its Community Health Center sites in Metairie and Marrero. JeffCare Opioid Detox & Recovery provides outpatient, physician-supervised detoxification treatment, one of the many services JeffCare offers.

“Building that relationship is one of the most unique roles—that is something you have to do. If these clients don’t trust you, you will go nowhere. They will walk out on you. Building that relationship and building that trust back. That is the most important thing within my role,” says Mervin.

To be successful, Mervin must work with patients to address their mental health as well as their physical health. “When you look at nursing, most nurses are pretty much either into physical medicine or in mental health. Nursing is usually one way or the other. It’s usually not balanced. With what I do, you have to use everything in the nursing curriculum. In order to succeed as a nurse in detox, you have to understand all aspects of nursing,” says Mervin.

There is no typical day for Mervin. He takes vital signs every hour, administers medication as needed for the detox symptoms patients may be experiencing, meets with the medical director, other staff, performs drug screenings, monthly injections and remotely monitors patient progress via emocha (a mobile video technology platform that facilitates communication with patients and improves medication adherence).

Mervin enjoys getting the chance to see people as they grow. He tells each and every one of his clients that they will give up on him before he gives up on them. “My biggest joy in all of this is to see an individual transform from a life of depending on a substance to start their day to maintaining a job and engaging in family life back with their families,” he said.

Mervin, along with many other nurses in the field of substance abuse treatment, leads with care by taking a holistic approach.  As Mervin summarizes, “I’ve always… believed in taking care of the mind, body, and soul, and I think that is one of the most important things, and I hold fast to that.”

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